Planning to visit Hokkaido and not sure what’s worth it on the island? Then you’re definitely in the right place because we know all the top things to do in Hokkaido!
Sapporo City, Hokkaido’s best natural landmarks, iconic events, and some of the best hidden gems in Japan are all situated on the country’s northernmost island. Read on to learn more about things to do in Hokkaido, and start planning your Japan trip!
The Shirogane Blue Pond is a man-made pond situated in Biei, and it’s one of the most beautiful landmarks in Japan. The color is because of the colloidal aluminum hydroxide in the pond water, which is there as a result of the dam on the Biei River that was done to protect the town from volcanic mudflows.
The Blue Pond is a spectacular sight. It’s one of the most iconic landmarks on the island of Hokkaido, loved by many for its uniqueness and beauty. The surreal blue pond is surrounded by Japanese larch trees, and the entire area is incredibly serene and peaceful.
The pond can be reached via a short hiking trail through the car park near the pond. You can travel to this area by bus from the main Biei Station, just keep in mind that buses aren’t very frequent, and it’s best to have a copy of the timetable on you, so you don’t miss the bus back to Biei.
Akan National Park is one of the two oldest national parks in Japan. It was established in 1934, and since then it has attracted numerous visitors who want to explore the magnificent landscapes of this national park.
The Akan Mashu NP can be divided into two main areas – Akan and Kawayu. Akan is the park region around the Akan Caldera and it includes the park’s highest mountain (Mount Meakan), Lake Akan, a hot water waterfall, lakes, an observation center, and a bunch of other natural landmarks.
The Kawayu region is best known for its lakes – Lake Kussharo and Lake Mashu, which are both caldera lakes. Lake Kussharo also features the Wakoto Peninsula, which boasts unique wildlife and high ground temperatures. Lake Mashu, on the other hand, is one of the world’s clearest lakes, with a visibility of up to 40 meters.
Noboribetsu is a city in southwestern Hokkaido best known for its abundance of natural hot springs. This is the best-known hot spring resort on Japan’s largest island, with about eleven different types of thermal water that are thought to have various healing properties.
The town mostly consists of hotels and ryokans that offer hot spring baths to their guests. Some establishments allow non-guests to use their spas and hot springs at a fee, but these are quite rare. Also, it’s worth noting that since there aren’t too many hot springs that are open to the general public, your best bet of experiencing these amazing hot springs is to spend a night or two in one of the many ryokans in the town.
Noboribetsu is also home to Hell Valley, which is the Jigokudani volcanic crater. Hell Valley features dramatic scenery with hiking trails, steam plumes, and sulphuric hot springs, and it’s one of the most popular sights in this area. This is the key source for all the hot spring waters in the resort town, and the valley even features a mud pond.
There are many hiking trails in the hills above Hell Valley, and they’re a great way to experience the beauty of this magnificent Japanese hidden gem.
Visit the Sapporo Snow Festival to experience a true winter wonderland in Hokkaido. It takes place every February in Sapporo City, and the main festival locations are Odori Park, Tsudome, and Susukino.
Massive ice sculptures, snow slides, and countless lit-up trees are just a few of the beautiful things you can expect to see at the Sapporo Snow Festival.
The Odori Park location of the festival is situated right in the center of Sapporo City, and it’s the largest festival location. It stretches for about 1.5 kilometers, and every part of the park is adorned with beautiful decorations, bright lights, and huge sculptures.
The Suskino Site of the Sapporo Snow Festival features the iconic Ice Sculpture Contest, while the Tsudome Site has slides and snow rafts that are super fun for the youngest visitors.
Shiretoko National Park is situated at the Shiretoko Peninsula, which occupies the majority of Hokkaido’s northeastern tip. It’s one of Japan’s remotest regions and it can only be accessed by boat. It’s definitely worth it to visit this area while you’re traveling through Hokkaido since it offers the unique opportunity to see drift ice in Japan.
Drift ice is a phenomenon of large pieces of ice that cover the sea. It’s common during the winter in colder regions, and it comes to this part of Japan from the Amur River. This fascinating phenomenon can be observed only in a few other locations on Hokkaido Island, and the Shiretoko National Park is the most famous of them all.
Apart from the drift ice, the national park is also known for its magnificent landscape that includes mountains and a hot springs waterfall. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as well as the home of the largest population of brown bears in Japan.
Lake Toya is a caldera lake situated at Shikotsu-Toya National Park in southwestern Hokkaido. It’s known for its almost circular shape and the Nakajima Island that sits at the center of the lake.
The beautiful Lake Toya is very popular for swimming, so it’s a great place for all tourists who just want to relax and unwind while they’re in Japan. With numerous lodgings on the lakeshore, you could wake up to stunning water views every morning and spend your days exploring the countless parks that are situated at the edges of the lake.
Also, it’s possible to ride a boat to the island in the center of this circular lake. Nakajima Island is home to the seasonal Nakajima Mizuminomori Museum, which is dedicated to natural history and the local forest industry.
It’s a great place to visit if you want to learn more about the ecosystem of the area, but also for the spectacular views that can be experienced from this tiny island in the middle of the lake.
Hakodate is one of the main cities on Hokkaido island. If you stay there during your travels through Hokkaido, don’t miss out on the Hakodate morning market. It’s the best place to shop fresh seafood and veggies in the city, as well as a bunch of other items.
In fact, the morning market is the perfect place to start each day in Hakodate. With more than 250 stores that sell everything from pre-made meals to iconic Japanese souvenirs, you’ll find pretty much everything you need right here.
Use this opportunity to stock up on fresh veggies, fruits, and seafood, or just buy pre-packaged meals if you’d rather not cook while you’re traveling through Hokkaido.
Furano is home to one of the best ski resorts in Hokkaido, and it’s the perfect place to visit if you enjoy skiing. The city is situated in the central island area, and staying in it for a few days is one of the best things to do in Hokkaido, whether you’re visiting in the summer or winter.
In the warmer months, Furano attracts visitors for its vast lavender fields. Farm Tomita is the most famous of them all, known for vast fields of lavender and a popular ice cream shop. Poppies and lilies also grow in this area, and the region’s gondolas let you experience a spectacular panorama of all these colorful fields any time of the year.
During the winter, Furano is most popular for its awesome ski slopes. The Furano Ski Resort often hosts various snowboarding and skiing events, and it’s one of Hokkaido’s most popular places for snow sports.
The Sapporo TV Tower is one of the most iconic landmarks in Sapporo City. It’s located at Odori Park and it’s most popular for the observation deck that offers gorgeous panoramic views of the Sapporo Cty skyline.
The tower was constructed in 1957 and it boasts a height of 147 meters. The observation deck sits at the 90-meter height and it offers a spectacular view of Odori Park, Sapporo, Maruyama, and Mount Okura.
For a long time, the TV Tower was the most prominent landmark in the city. However, in recent years, several high-rise buildings were constructed in the area near the famous tower, which made it much less prominent.
Niseko is a village northwest of Lake Toya, popular for its many ski resorts. The village is situated in the Niseko United ski area at the foot of Mount Niseko Annupuri. The hotels are open year-round, and this is easily one of the best places in Japan for anyone who is looking to explore some excellent ski trails.
The area has more than 2,191 acres of terrain you can ski on, as well as many high-end hotels. Most hotels also feature onsen facilities, allowing guests to relax in the wonderful hot springs after hours of skiing. The resorts are also home to gourmet restaurants that are just perfect for guests who want to explore Japanese cuisine.
The resorts are open every season, but skiing is possible only in the winter. In the summer months, Niseko is popular for its excellent golf courses, wonderful nature parks, adrenaline parks, and a plethora of hiking and mountain biking trails.
Visit the city of Otaru for a memorable time in one of Japan’s best hidden gems. The city’s warehouse district used to be the key part of this busy port town, but nowadays it’s a popular tourist destination lined with cafes and restaurants.
A walk along the canal is a great way to experience this Japanese city, but a boat cruise on the canal is even more memorable. The cruise lasts for about 40 minutes, taking you through the entire Otaru Canal and offering a different perspective on the waterfront buildings. You’ll also learn about the history of the canal, and the many changes that have happened here in the past century.
Apart from the canal, Otaru is also known for glassware and music boxes. There are many stores throughout the city that sell music boxes and all sorts of items made from glass, making it a great place to shop for some truly unique Japanese souvenirs.
Daisetsuzan National Park is the largest of all the national parks in Japan, spanning an area of 2,267 square kilometers. Its name translates to “great snowy mountains”, which is a perfect description of the snowy peaks that can be observed in this national park.
The NP boasts a total of 16 mountain peaks that are more than 2,000 meters tall, and it’s possible to explore hiking trails on most of them. Not all the mountains are accessible for hikers due to rugged terrain and the large presence of brown bears in the area, so be sure to stick to the marked trails while you’re exploring the NP.
Additionally, it’s important to note that the national park features three groups of volcanic mountains. They’re stratovolcanoes that are piled atop one another, and they’re an incredible sight. When one of the vents becomes active, it builds a peak, and then the activity ceases until a new vent forms.
Lake Mashu is one of the many lakes in Akan Mashu National Park and it’s definitely the highlight of the famous site. It formed in the crater of a volcano, and it’s potentially the clearest lake in the world.
The visibility of Lake Mashu is up to 40 meters, but it’s worth noting that this was measured in 1931. The visibility has declined a bit since then, mostly because of the introduction of salmon and rainbow trout to the lake.
The gorgeous lake also has a reputation for being quite mysterious, mostly because of the thick fog that’s present around the lake for about 100 days out of the year. There’s even a local legend that says bad luck will follow you if you can see the lake surface, but it’s such an astounding sight that it’s worth risking it!
Shakotan Peninsula is situated on Hokkaido’s west coast. The mountainous peninsula projects around 30 kilometers into the Sea of Japan, and it is part of Niseko-Shakotan-Otaru Kaigan Quasi-National Park.
It’s well known for natural stone pillars and numerous hiking trails that offer breathtaking scenic views of the surrounding nature and the Sea of Japan. Cape Kamui is the most impressive of the Shakotan Peninsula attractions and it can be reached by a hiking trail from the parking lot at the peninsula.
It’s about a 40-minute hike from the parking lot to the tip of the cape, and it’s known as Charenka’s Path. The trail rewards hikers with spectacular panoramic views of the sea, and if you visit in the summer, you’ll also be able to see some beautiful colorful flowers during the hike.
The Hokkaido Shrine is situated in Sapporo, and it is the city’s most important Shinto shrine. The famous shrine spans an area of 180,000 square meters, and it is right next to Maruyama Park.
The shrine was constructed in 1869, in order to preserve three Shinto deities. This was ordered by Emperor Meiji, and upon his passing, his soul was also enshrined here. The Hokkaido Shrine is the first in rank of all the government-supported shrines, and it’s truly a special place for the people of Japan.
It’s located in the part of Sapporo City that is best experienced in the spring when visitors can admire not just the fascinating Hokkaido shrine, but also the numerous cherry blossoms that are in bloom in this area. It’s also a great place to visit during the Japanese New Year, as well as in June when the Sapporo Festival takes place.
The shrine is spectacular no matter when you visit, but if you go during a certain event, it’s going to be a much more memorable experience.
The New Chitose Airport is Japan’s fifth-busiest airport and a popular tourist attraction in the greater Sapporo area. It boasts a movie theater, a stuffed animal museum, a play area for children, and an onsen with saunas and thermal baths. It’s almost like a huge mall and an entertainment center, just with planes flying in and out of it.
The airport also boasts an indoor market, many restaurants, cafes, and souvenir shops, all inside its main terminal. There’s also an airport park outside the building, which features an outlet mall and a golf park, among other things.
In case you’re arriving in Hokkaido through this airport, you should know that it also boasts a large duty shop and many car rental agencies. New Chitose Airport and Sapporo are connected with high-speed trains that will take you from the airport to Sapporo Station in just some 30 minutes. It’s worth noting that this train, as well as any other in Hokkaido, is covered by both the Japan Rail Pass and the HokkaidoRail Pass.
A 13-minute cable car ride will take you to the Unkai Terrace, which is an observation deck in Nakatomamu that offers surreal views of clouds and nearby mountains. The lookout point is also known as the Sea of Clouds because it sits on such a high elevation that visitors are literally looking down on the clouds.
This incredible sight is one of the top Hokkaido attractions, and definitely something you shouldn’t skip while you’re exploring the Japanese island. It’s worth noting that it tends to be really cold at Unkai Terrace, so be sure to layer up if you’re set on seeing the Sea of Clouds.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the spectacular view can only be experienced in warm and sunny weather. There’s a lot of fog in rainy weather and in the colder months, and you can’t really see anything past the fog.
Also, in the winter the observation deck is known as the Terrace of Frost Tree since the entire area freezes over and frost can be seen on the trees surrounding it. It’s still a wonderful sight, but it tends to be extremely cold and icy here in the winter, so be sure to dress appropriately.
If you’re traveling with kids, you should definitely visit the Asahiyama Zoo. It’s situated just outside the center of Asahikawa City, and it’s best known for keeping animals in their natural habitat, allowing them to draw out their natural behavior.
The zoo is a very popular destination for animal lovers of all ages, who come from all over the world to see lively and happy animals. It’s best to visit the zoo in the morning right after it opens since that’s when the animals are the most energetic.
Some of the top attractions at the Asahiyama Zoo include the Hippopotamus House, polar and brown bears, penguins, and seals. The Penguin House even features an underwater glass tunnel where you can observe penguins swimming, which is pretty awesome. Also, it’s worth noting that it’s possible to see zookeepers interacting with various animals throughout the entire zoo, and more often than not, they’ll put on a little show for the onlookers.
In addition to numerous lively animals, the zoo also features cafes, restaurants, and souvenir shops, so plenty of spaces where you can take a break.
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